Our friends at 75or Less Records continue to crank out quality product, and February 2011 marks their fifth anniversary, as the Warren-based label founded by Six Star General bassist Mark "Slick" MacDougall approaches its 100th release. 75or Less Records put out 21 albums last year, including a must-hear pair of fourth-quarter platters — the long, long
-awaited debut from the Skinny Millionaires and the return of Suicide Bill & the Liquors. Vastly different in terms of storytelling yet equally engaging under the lights, the Skinny Mils' Mike O'Donnell and "Suicide Bill" Cole deliver records worthy of your hard-earned coin (available at 75orlessrecords.com
Slick the CEO wasn't blowing smoke a few months ago when he referred to Sleeping Dogs Lie, the first official release from the Skinny Millionaires, as "a really impressive album and definitely worth the wait." You may remember TSM vocalist/guitarist Mike O'Donnell from his previous outfit, the Newport post-punk trio No Means Yes, which released a couple of albums from 2000-'03 before uprooting for Seattle. Four years later, O'Donnell returned home to Newport and founded the Skinny Millionaires, basically a one-man operation with a revolving door of musicians. O'Donnell handles just about every instrument heard on Sleeping Dogs Lie aside from violin, which is courtesy of classically-trained Meghan O'Connor, whose gorgeous vocals complement the tortured, half-stewed souls O'Donnell inhabits across the 12 tracks. Chirping crickets introduce O'Connor's sleepy violin and angelic cooing on the album opener, "Keep Dyin'," one of three tracks featuring John McCauley on background vocals; the pair mesh well behind the tremolo, violin, and clip-clop backbeat. "Rare Bird" is a precious, orchestral keeper. And while we nominated the early demo version as one of the best songs in last year's Best Music Poll, it's almost overshadowed by the bevy of highlights here. But Sleeping Dogs Lie offers more than the expected indie-folk acoustic leanings, as O'Donnell dials up some crunchy rock nuggets with "Night of the Creeps" and "Rooftops" (for those of you already missing the White Stripes), and the album's closing numbers, "Be OK" and "Diamond In the Rough," remind me why I always refer to the late Mark Linkous (of Sparklehorse) when I hear O'Donnell and his Skinny Millionaires. There is an undeniable zeal for life's darker side packaged with subtle hints of brighter days ahead.
Suicide Bill & the Liquors (formerly the Suicide Liquors way back when) is another Newport commodity worth investing in. They're back with Good Morning Breakfast, Fuck You Lunch
, the follow up to 2009's The Devil Said 'Hi' to Bill
. It's bursting with "sloppy music with some kind of feeling" and meant to be cranked up "on the stereo of a delivery vehicle or the cassette deck in your mom's Escort," per the 75orLess press release. Suicide Bill's backing band includes stalwarts from Newport's fertile hardcore breeding grounds of the '80s, but singer/guitarist Bill Cole is the star attraction here (he often plays out solo around Newport), blessed with the sense of humor befitting your insane uncle. There are plenty of Rhody references ("Miss-A-Sippie in RI") and verbal shredding of skinny jean hipsters and douchebags alike, presented by a guy who probably spent a fair amount of time crushing beers while cranking the Replacements and Mission of Burma (the Goo Goo Dolls' Superstar Car Wash
also comes to mind). "I'm not a thin guy on a motorcycle, I'm a fat guy in a van — that's just what I am," Cole croons on "I'm Not a Thin Guy." From the opening midtempo "Don't Say Amazing" to the closing acoustic tune "Hurricane Bill," Cole is a masterful tongue-in-cheek linguist. But it's the double shot of "We're the No Leaf Clover" into "Baker's Dozen" midway through that solidifies this album as a must-grab.
THE SKINNY MILLIONAIRES | Saturday, February 19 @ 9 pm | Billy Goode's, 23 Marlborough Street, Newport | 401.848.5013 |reverbnation.com/theskinnymillionaires